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Gregorian Chant and Haec Dies

Terms:

Plainchant/plainsong …
Gregorian chant and other chants are all classified as plainchant/plainsong. They consist of a single line melody which is unaccompanied, monophonic texture, and a free-flowing rhythm which gently follows the contours of the Latin text. They contain sacred texts and are generally free from accent. As notation had not yet been developed, plainsong was passed down orally.
Monophonic texture …
Gregorian chant is sung in monophonic texture, which is an unaccompanied single vocal line, which could be presented in multiple voices but lacking harmony.
Neumes …
As the quantity of plainchant became larger, it was a challenge to pass them all down orally. A method of recording the melody became necessary. Neumes, little ascending and descending lines were written above the text to follow the contours of the music.
Modes …
Scale patterns are known as modes. Our major and minor scale patterns have a gravitation towards the tonic while the modes which the plainsongs were based on were freer. Six modes were used: Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Ionian, Aeolian, and Dorian.
Text setting …
The text of the plainsong could be set to the melody in different styles, often according to the occasion:

  • Syllabic … Syllabic text setting was when one tone was sung per syllable.
  • Neumatic … Neumatic text setting was when two to four tones were sung per syllable.
  • Melismatic … Melismatic was a text setting which often displayed joy and celebration and was when a single syllable was stretched over many tones.
Mass …
The Mass is an important component of Roman Catholic worship. It consisted of a reenactment of the Last Supper, Eucharist, Scripture readings, and prayers. The prayers were divided into two categories:

  • Proper … The Proper prayers were those in which the texts would change according to the church calendar and the feasts being celebrated.
    • Gradual … The gradual is the fourth component of the Proper mass and was presented in responsorial singing in which the soloist would present the verse and the chorus would answer with the response. It is often presented in a melismatic text setting.
  • Ordinary … The ordinary texts were those which did not shift according to the church calendar but remained the same throughout.
Responsorial singing …
The style in which the Gradual was sung in. The soloist presents the verse while the chorus answers with the response in a melismatic text setting.

  • Verse … The verse is the part of responsorial singing which the soloist presents.
  • Response … The response is the part of responsorial singing which the chorus answers the soloist.
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory the Great is credited with having organized the liturgy for the Roman Catholic church, hence why the plainsongs are known as Gregorian chants today.
Hildegard of Bingen …
The tenth child born into nobility, Hildegard was presented to the church as a tithe. She is known for her prophecies, medical writings, and compositions. Her varied career also features her as the head of order at the convent which she founded. Her compositions mainly consist of poetry combined with music. What was unusual about her music was that she did not base her works on preexisting material but wrote her own. Her “Play of the Virtues” is among her best known works.

“Haec Dies Gregorian Chant”

This anonymous chant was written for Easter Sunday, an important feast which commemorates Christ’s death on the cross and celebrates his resurrection from the dead. It is the fourth item from the proper mass. The name “Gradual” is derived from steps, possibly because it may have been performed on the steps of the church. It is sung in a responsorial manner in which the soloist, or officiating priest, would present the verse answered by the response sung by the chorus. This chant is based on the Biblical passages: Psalm 118:24 and Psalm 106:1. It is a song of praise to God. The opening line means “This is the day that the Lord has made” which is the verse presented by the soloist. The texture is monophonic and text is in Latin, which was the language used for all sacred music. The predominent text setting is melismatic, which reflects the joyous occasion which is being celebrated. The rhythm is unmeasured and free flowing and is modal, based on the modes. Specific words are emphasized such as “Dominus” (Lord) and “exaltemus” (we will rejoice) with melismatic texture which sets these apart from the others.

All information on this article is derived from: Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, Eight Edition, Standard Version, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999. Janet Lopinski, Joe Ringhofer, and Peteris Zarins. Exploring Music History, A Guided Approach, Mississauga, Ontario: Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited

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11 comments (show) ▼

Anonymous

The article helps me a lot ~~

shanon

I’m glad I could help!

Anonymous

this is great! my exam is in a few days and its really helping to clarify some stuff i was confused about. thank you!

Anonymous

This is very useful for getting through all the vague (and sometimes nonexistant) explanations in the textbook, thanks very much

shanon

Great! Glad I could help you out. I felt the same way!!

Anonymous

It helps me a lot for the exam!

Anonymous

I’m cramming for these exams and this is so helpful -thank you!

shanon

Welcome! Glad to help!

Becky

Hi! Thank you so much for this information. It helped me a lot. I’m currently studying History 2, and it’s really confusing. I need to write an essay on this, and i was wondering, what is the structure of this Gregorian Chant?

anonymus

WOW thank you sooo much, the teacher was talking waaaay too fast! aahahah thanks :)

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